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Bigamist, The (1953)


And such a small man in comparison...
And such a small man in comparison...

Genre: Drama

Starring: Edmond O'Brien (The Wild Bunch The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance), Joan Fontaine (Rebecca • Letter from an Unknown Woman),  Ida Lupino (High Sierra • On Dangerous Ground)

Directed By: Ida Lupino ("Have Gun - Will Travel" "Gilligan's Island")

Overview: When a bigamist is uncovered by a private investigator, he attempts to explain his reasons for this double life.

Years ago, I found The Bigamist in a bargain bin, as a double feature which included The Man With The Golden Arm, starring Frank Sinatra. Today, I need to confess something. I watched The Man With The Golden Arm first, but I wasn't cheating on it, in fact I was married to it before I ever met The Bigamist, but I swear I love them both! Who am I kidding? Given the choice, I'd have dropped Ida Lupino's boring melodrama the moment she started asking me to 'be more sensitive to her needs'.
Quickly, The Bigamist is the story of simply that. After a man and his wife fill out the necessary paperwork to adopt a child, the private investigator whose job it is to do a quick background check discovers that hopeful father Harry Graham is also Harrison Graham, and that he's married too. When the investigator confronts him, Harry sits him down and explains all the reasons for this gross fumbled misunderstanding that is a double life. Rather than go into the details of the what and why, let me just say that the reasons do not endear Harry one bit.
On the plus side, The Bigamist does a great job of making the two women involved completely pathetic, in a way that makes you care, not in a way that has the audience asking 'why are you such a pathetic loser?'. Aside from that, The Bigamist doesn't have much to offer besides tempting you to two-time it with some better movie. Of the 80 minute total runtime, a good 15 minutes is spent by the private investigator doing his background check. What possibly could be the terrible secret held by the suspicious Harry Graham? I sat there wondering why they weren't getting on with it. We knew exactly what the P.I. would find, it's the damned TITLE OF THE FILM. What could have been an interesting mini-mystery introduction was spoiled before I opened the DVD case.
The Bigamist is basically a Christian morality play distilled into film. Remember those cheap 'girl succumbs to drugs and sex' movies from the 50s? There you go, only with a bigger budget, yet without any improvement in dialogue. My favourite line, spoken in a hoity cadence by the private investigator after Harry's apologetic tale, "I must say that was both a gallant and a foolish scheme." I rolled my eyes and wrote it down to share this camel-back breaking straw of dialogue with you. To top is off is brutally poor sound work which includes moments without any ambient sound whatsoever that cause you to wonder what's wrong with your surround sound system. Wonderful.
Chris Fujiwara, the critic who wrote the review of The Bigamist for the 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die book, stated that "the orchestration of [looks shared or half-avoided] achieves a combination of ambiguity and intensity that recalls both Carl Dreyer and Nicholas Ray." Clearly that 1001 critic was quite moved by the sheer drama and acting of The Bigamist's players, but for me those other directors' names used as banners on high to express the genius of this film merely served as two more cartridges of ammunition for my own review. When reminded of those directors' worst works, personal favourite reviews I loved ranting vitriol about, Ray's Johnny Guitar, full of ridiculous posturing and Dreyer's Gertrud, copiously overfilled with awkward 'ambiguous half-avoided looks', the 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die book merely helped explain why I disliked The Bigamist so much.

 He's all torn up about having double the pleasure?!
He's all torn up about having double the pleasure?! Oh wait... double the Hell.

Performance: 5 Cinematography: 6 Script: 4 Plot: 6 Mood: 6

Overall Rating: 54% (The Trouble with Married)
I've also discovered that I'm not a fan of Joan Fontaine. Beautiful and talented as she is, how she ends up playing some of the most boring garrulous characters in film I'll never know. The Bigamist only brought back bad memories of Letter from an Unknown Woman.
If nothing else, the best thing to come of The Bigamist was discovering a film I'd never heard of and probably would not have otherwise stumbled upon, the excellent, gripping The Man With The Golden Arm. Talk about 'the other woman'. I recommended that instead of watching The Bigamist, you should just go to bed with that one twice.

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